Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fitting In

Last night I went to a Bar Mitzvah.  It was lovely and I truly enjoyed myself, with the exception of the thirty minutes I spent coughing!!

It is interesting.  When I lived in ---, I wanted so desperately to "fit in" and to be accepted. I have had trouble "fitting in" most of my life.  It is due, in part, to my hearing loss which rendered me at times "socially inept".  Speaking out of turn, or out of context, mis-communications or simply missing communications would do that to me.  But one would think that as an adult I would not have such problems. 

But --- is a suburb of NY and thus, in a way, part of the greater NY metropolitan area.  People in that area of NY and NJ tend to be more snobby, more clique-y.  Barry and I were very active in our community, we were founding members, literally of our shul and involved in many of the shul efforts and activities.  But, that did not buy my acceptance into that society. For the most part, I was snubbed by many of the members of the shul, in particular the "rich" people.  I saw it, felt it, but for the most part, I ignored it.  To my way of thinking, if I ignored it, I would not give it any validity or credence.  But, that did not mean I did not feel it, that did not mean I was not hurt by it. I was.  Deeply.  My late husband also saw it.  For himself he did not really care.  He had never really concerned himself with fitting in, because growing up he DID fit in, easily.  He did not have the social issues that I had growing up which later made social acceptance so important for me.   He and I did not speak of it much, he had the same attitude about validating it as I did.  But he did speak of it with his sister, Karen. She told me, after his death, that he told her how much he loved me and how it pained him to see me treated with disrespect by the snobby members of our shul.  Since Barry died and since I moved away from ---, I actually became closer to one woman there, who, like me, has been "shunned" by the snobby members of the "rich elite".  Barry and she were close when he was alive but she and I were like oil and water back then.  But now we are close. We are very alike in many ways.  I have spoken with her about this issue of my "fitting in" in ---, and she agreed with me that we have been snubbed.  So I know I am not imagining it, I have not imagined that I have been slighted. 

I moved to --- not knowing a soul and I had talked myself into "not caring" if I would be accepted or not.  Of course, it was a lie to myself because of course, I did want to be accepted. But I needed not to have worried -- I was welcomed with open arms by everyone, without reservation, without judgment, and without care for my socio-economic status. It was a totally new experience for me and I enjoyed it.  But I also considered it to be anomalous within the religious Jewish community at large.  

After living in --- for 14 months, I made aliyah to Israel and went to live in Hashmonaim.  For most of my first year here, I have not really felt a "part of the community", but just living in the midst of one.  I did not feel snubbed, I did not feel disrespected.  At times I felt disconnected or even forgotten, but not snubbed, and not disrespected.  However, I am now in my second year here and I have been noticing that I am feeling more a part of the community, in a way I had not felt before.  I find that people come up to me to converse with me and include me in their discussions.  It is very nice. 

Last night I went to the Bar Mitzvah with a certain amount of trepidation.  I knew it would be a big, fancy affair and that many of the attendees to the event would be from the wealthier people on the Yishuv.  I wondered if I would experience the same snobbery I experienced when I would attend these type events back in ---.  In ---, I would find that women would either ignore me, or talk over or around me, or more directly, titter at me.  I remember the despair I would feel when I was in those situations, especially if there were separate seating.   I knew that last night's affair would not be separate seating, but then I was also going it alone, without a spouse, so it really made no real difference to me.  In --- I would find that I would be seated with people who were the "odd ones out" rather than with my true peers.  It was very hurtful for me. 

Well, last night I arrived at the event, and the host of the party was very happy that I showed up.  There was at first a sumptuous smorgasbord and the inevitable mingling and schmoozing. I used to keep to myself during the mingling and schmoozing parts of these events.  Last night, I could not have done that had I wanted to. I found myself mingling and schmoozing, and WELCOMED into the little discussion groups that sprang up here and there throughout the hall.  It was a very nice sensation, to know that I was not being snubbed.  Then it came time to be seated at our tables. I was assigned to Table Five and wondered who I would be seated with.  I found myself seated with people I know, amongst couples rather than amongst the "odd ones out".  I was included in all the conversations, and in fact, asked to tell the story of my "amazing reunion" with Judy M - I had attended ulpan in 1977 with her and her twin sister -- I believe I wrote about this.   I was invited to sit at other tables to schmooze in between courses.  When I went through my thirty minute long bout of coughing, I was made to feel the concern of others -- for ME, and not for themselves.  A high point of the  night was when I returned to the table from the ladies room and suddenly all the women got flustered. Why?  Because they all thought I had left for the night and had given my shawl which I had left on the chair to another woman to take back home with her to give to me the next day!  It was very funny and it turned out that she had not left after all and one of the women went sprinting after her (in HEELS) to get my shawl.  I followed her and we all had a good laugh about it.  It was a laugh of inclusion and it felt SO GOOD TO ME!!

I know I am going on a bit about something that is really much ado about nothing.  But for me, after YEARS of trying to fit in and finally feeling like I do, it is not nothing, but very much a lot of something!! 


  1. Rachel, if it's any comfort to you, I was never included in my school groups; I was a misfit, growing up in NYC and attending a 'rich man's school' which shall remain nameless in this comment. I know how good it feels to be part of a group, included, spoken to and valued as a person.
    I am so happy for you that you were accepted!

    However, I read your later posts on your health care ordeal, and am livid: it is very similar to what my daughter, who went to Israel in the Na'aleh program at age 15, who after graduating high school served 3 years as a combat--yes, combat soldier/commander in special forces, became a checkpoint security guard after having completed and passed a grueling training program, and is now in a wheelchair at age 24, getting NO help from doctors for her little-understood condition, RSD/CRPS, a chronic pain condition for which there is currently no cure. She thinks the Israeli health care system s**ks, basically.

    Right now, she is waiting for her next va'adah refuit, scheduled for the first week in March, by Bituach Leumi. They, who do not understand what she has or is going through, have the final say in whether she gets a disability payment or not. If not--G-d forbid-- she cannot work, and will have NOTHING to live on.

    At this point, I'm really having second thoughts about returning to Israel to live, especially at our age (we're in our 60s)...